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Agents' PropTech Toolshed: Marvellous maintenance

Just like that, the Easter Bank Holiday has come and gone and I find myself now looking ahead to the Summer. 

The recent interesting weather of beastly snow, colder than usual temperatures and heavy rain has certainly kept our management team busy and I know they long for the easier management season. 

It’s therefore probably great timing to look at what is happening in the ‘maintenance management’ PropTech space.

Maintenance is one of the key service offerings of managed lettings. Done right, this can be a huge instruction winner and a key factor in client retention. 

However, doing this right has never been easy and it’s a tricky, and often demanding, juggling act. 

Like many of our jobs, the key comes down to communication - many of the frustrations and anger stems from tenants and landlords not knowing what is happening. Then you’ve also got the juggling of quotations, works orders and access arrangements.

Over the last five years, however, this has been gradually transformed through independent offerings, evolution of in-house software and the future is looking bright as more innovation hits the marketplace. 

Without further ado, here are some of the great and the good. Firstly, the established offerings:

FixFlo Lettings & Plus

It seems only fair to lead with FixFlo. The original ‘maintenance module innovator’ was launched by the enigmatic Rajeev Nayyar back in 2013. 

FixFlo is now used by over 4,000 agency branches in the UK - covering over 450,000 homes - and has really led the way in terms of innovating processes for agents, tenants and landlords alike.

Having been a FixFlo client throughout 2015-2016, it was really exciting to get a tour of the product as it is now and the enhanced features within FixFlo Plus. 

What really captured me, was the new ‘rules’ features. This allows agents to teach the platform how to respond and resolve issues whether you’re looking at a specified issue solution - or a unique rule applicable to a property or landlord. 

No property portfolio has a completely uniform process - there are always landlords that want to use their own contractors, or tenants that won’t allow access without them present. This is here to make sure those rules are always abided by, with little time and effort required from the agent. Clever!

FixFlo integrates with a vast array of software suppliers, can be used as a standalone product and enables a considerable amount of customisation. It also offers block management and commercial property solutions too and is becoming a truly global platform (currently operating across 14 time zones!).

An affordable solution, Fixflo has a minimum monthly subscription of £40 per month with its letting module costing 35p and Plus offering 55p per property per month. Based on a managed portfolio of 150 properties, that’s either £52.50 or £82.50 (plus VAT) per month. Solid value.

PropertyFile Lite and Plus by ZPG

Initially launched by Jupix back in 2013 as ePropertyfile, PropertyFile has evolved a lot since then and now offers an array of tools for agents to deliver a truly cutting-edge service. 

PropertyFile offers landlords a responsive portal while tenants can download the free PropertyFile app. This allows tenants to review general tenancy information, access any and all tenancy documents, see their tenancy payment ledger history, troubleshoot/report/track maintenance issues (with the app giving push notification updates at each key stage) and even direct messaging.

The key stage push notifications in the app (issue acknowledged, landlord approval, contractor visit schedule and job completion) streamline agency workload, give tenants real time updates and minimise onerous emails. 

What’s more, the integration of PropertyFile with Zoopla’s Jupix and alto products means the tracking and progressing of issues is streamlined with easy progressions via the dashboard and the ability to easily issue quotations and works orders accordingly.

PropertyFile Lite is available free of charge as part of the software licence fee. Plus is a new release and is currently being offered at £9 per user per month with a host of new features and more to come. 

Reapit: in-house and FixFlo

Reapit offers its agents the ability to use an in-house maintenance reporting solution (with a landlord and tenant portal) with tenants able to submit a description and photos and this pulled through to the property manager’s dashboard. 

From there, this can then be progressed through quotations and works orders, streamlining the process immensely. Agents, wishing to offer a slightly richer reporting environment and the enhanced ‘Plus’ features mentioned above (such as rules) can also opt to integrate FixFlo in to this offering, effectively allowing agents to have a free or premium solution to resolving maintenance issues.

Launching and coming soon…This space isn’t standing still and there are two new offerings entering this space:

Sorbet

Having launched in January this year it is early days for Sorbet and it currently represents 15 branches - an intentionally gentle rollout. 

Sorbet probably offers what, I thought, was one of the ‘cleanest’ interfaces of all the products - taking a modern approach to the dashboard and only showing users what they need to see/action. 

The claim from Sorbet, from the remote demo I was given, is that its functionality will blend some of the best features of the likes of FixFlo and PropertyFile while adding further methods of progression and applying a level of automation to maintenance.

The platform looked really slick, and there were some nice features such as helping identify contractors that you regularly use for certain jobs. the interesting part will be seeing how this works alongside other software offerings. 

LetMC has been quick off the mark and is already offering an integration with Sorbet. Integrations will really be essential for this platform to realise some of its more lofty ambitions - but when that does happen this will be a truly exciting product.

It is early days, so pricing is not 100% set but Sorbet is currently offering a £99pm subscription for up to 300 properties and is looking at offering a lower price point offering for smaller portfolios of around £40 for a cap of 150 units.

Ask Porter

Launching next month, Ask Porter is looking to put AI (artificial intelligence) front and centre with all that it does. 

While AI still sounds very much like something out of a sci-fi movie to many of us, the reality is this is primarily about the application of ‘deep learning’- the developing of decisions (via algorithms) developed by the gathering and reviewing of large volumes of data. 

The very nature of this process means that the system will get better with time - the more data it accesses, the more problems it solves (or tries to) the more it learns and the more effective it becomes.

Rather than such ‘outdated’ things as apps and dashboards, Ask Porter will be an interface where issues can be reported and addressed in a conversational manner. 

This could be via social media, a website or an app - or even by having a chat with Alexa! The idea is that Ask Porter will take a report from identifying through to solution, potentially helping troubleshoot but later even issuing works orders and organising access. 

Much like Sorbet, it will be interesting to see how the somewhat ‘loftier’ ambitions of automations work alongside an agency’s core software management system and how systems will learn to handle the intricacies of property management mentioned earlier.

Truth be told, I think these are systems that will appeal, and benefit, the largest of institutions in the early days as they are the ones with the scale (and therefore data) to make this work. 

However, could this be the future of property management come, say, 2020 and beyond? Who knows – but the people behind Ask Porter think so and they may be right!

With launch imminent, pricing is not yet established but, with data collation being essential to its development, it’s likely pricing will start low at around 10p per property per month possibly with a monthly minimum.

But for real success…

I keep banging on about the product only being half of the solution but, no matter how smart it is, this is a key takeaway from every blog I write in this series. 

It is essential that, when adopting any PropTech solution, you take the time to understand how to fully embed the product in to your processes. 

How you ensure that your staff quickly adapt to its presence and leverage the benefits, both in terms of in-house efficiency and consumer experience, as quickly and effectively as possible. 

You might be adopting your first tech product or it may be your 10th, but the journey remains the same - and your company, its ethos, its online presence and culture must evolve along with it.

Not only that, but you must invest time and effort in to using every possible aspect and feature of a product you use. There is increasing customisation in these tools as companies understand more and more that agents, whilst adopting similar products, still want to remain unique and be able to differentiate themselves from their competitors by more than just a logo.

Don’t forget that tech products are on a journey. I don’t think there is a single product, new or established, that is perfect. They are all on a journey - and that journey is with you. 

It’s essential that you maintain a good channel of communication with your product suppliers and give them regular, detailed and honest feedback. Hate ‘X’ and wish it really did ‘Y’? Like the fact ‘A’ does ‘B’ but wouldn’t it be great if it took care of ‘C’ at the same time?’ Tell your supplier. 

They want the product to be the best it can be and they can only achieve this through regular feedback, advice and ideas from you. You might not get what you want, or you might have to wait, but over time you will definitely getting an ever-improving product that, when you look back a few years later will be light years ahead of the product you loved when you first took it on board.

Your PropTech partners are on a journey and they most definitely want you along for the ride!

That’s’ it for this week - as always, I welcome feedback, comments and questions. Next time, I will be looking at Virtual Tour offerings and what these can bring to your agency. Until then, PropTech and prosper!

*Kristjan Byfield is company director and co-founder of base property specialists

**You can read parts one, two and three of the Agents’ PropTech Toolshed here, here and here.

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